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Cache of the Day: Iyar

Sima Freidel Steinbaum

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Last August, China experienced the world’s longest traffic jam — timewise and lengthwise — at ten days, sixty miles, and 10,000 cars long.

But … were the drivers really stuck? Well, as long as they were committed to being on that road, and staying with their cars, they were. But other options did exist. Back to that soon.

Some of today’s cars have memory adjustments; at the press of a button, seat, mirrors, and stereo system will move into the favorite settings of a previous driver. This works well for a car and driver. It’s when we journey the roads of our life on memory settings and cruise control that it’s a problem.

How often do we live our lives according to “memory adjustment” settings, whether or not we own a car? We often, consciously or subconsciously, expect each day to be just the same as the day before, and we accept our previous day’s settings without ever checking to see if they still fit.

Maybe we need more legroom, because we’ve worked on our mitzvah observance and need room to stretch out and grow. Maybe our mirrors need to be readjusted because we’re learning to look at life from different angles. Maybe the angle of the seat back is wrong because we’re less lax about things and are sitting up and paying more attention to things on the road in front.

“To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday” (John Burroughs, 1837–1921)



When we’re “baderech,” we’re “on the way.” When our hashkafos are sound, we’re on the “right derech.” When someone leaves Torah, G-d forbid, he’s “off the derech.” Obviously, he’s on some path, but if it’s not the Torah one, then, to all intents and purposes, he’s “off.” He’s on a road to nowhere, a dead end. Or maybe just a rut or swamp.

However, leaving our derech doesn’t necessarily mean that we are “off the derech.” We may be taking a shortcut that’s a long cut, or a long cut that’s a shortcut. As long as we adhere to Torah and mitzvos, to family minhagim and nusach, and stay at least parallel in our level of observance (obviously going up is optimal), there are seventy “faces” to Torah (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15) and different approaches to avodas Hashem.

Being on a road or a path most often involves driving, nehigah, and many words come from its root nun-hey-gimmel:







Rav Hirsch defines the root as “vocalize directions for movement,” and this is what a manhig, a leader, does, puts his orders into words, so that movement — whether physical, emotional, or spiritual — can happen. Now consider the word l’hitnaheg, usually translated as “to behave.” Hebrew verbs beginning with “l’hit…” are reflexive, however, a verb describing an action we are doing to ourselves. Therefore, l’hitnaheg literally means to lead, or drive, ourselves, or as Rav Hirsch puts it, to vocalize directions [to ourselves] for movement. Again, either physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Our nehigah, driving, of our daily lives cannot be allowed to become so automatic that we no longer think about how we’re sitting, what we’re looking at, what we’re listening to, or where we’re going. We can’t noheig, lead or drive, ourselves by rote, simply because we’re noheig, accustomed, to doing something a certain way. Sometimes we’re on the wrong derech; we have to be willing to change direction.

The only thing that could really keep anyone in a ten-day traffic jam is the physical or mental inability to get off the road and take a different route. To drive the car off the road if possible, or to just leave the car behind. Most of us wouldn’t leave our cars there. But it’s important to remember that we could.

Let’s not slide into every day the same way we did the day before. Let’s check that today’s settings fit who we are now, not who we were yesterday, or even a minute ago. Even mid-journey we shouldn’t hesitate to pull over for readjustments. An exit for a breather, a snack, a route change, a back road with better scenery.

Right now, we’ve just exited Pesach and we’re in the middle of the forty-nine days of sefiras haOmer, a long stretch of highway, each day of which brings us closer to the giving of the Torah on Shavuos, on the fiftieth day, and each day of which is blessed with its own potent combination of Heavenly attributes for self-refinement.

Are we still running on memory settings and cruise control? If we did succeed in changing over Pesach (in addition to changing over our kitchens) then we need to check our settings and vocalize directions for our movement in another direction. — behavior— driving, to be accustomed to— leader— something we’re accustomed to doing— “to express thoughts,” (Tehillim 1:2, 9:17, and 106:13)— “leading,” (Shemos 10:13, 13:17), and in Modern Hebrew, a driver (a guide) and hadrachah (guidance) both derive from this root, derech meaning both an actual physical road, or route, as well as the more abstract method, way, technique, or mode, as in “Show them the derech they must take ” (Shemos 18:20)., dalet-reish-chaf, means “step forward, progress toward a goal, stepping, guiding, stomping, aiming, open road, way to a goal” (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch).


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